Camp Hill High School Shows Why They’re Still ‘The Top’

Review: ‘Anything Goes’ in High School Musical Week No. 3

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Caleb Steindel, News Editor/Staff Writer

INTRO

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, live theatre has suffered greatly. Shows closed mid-run, casts and crews lost jobs, and musical junkies resigned themselves to Disney+ recordings and YouTube bootlegs. Now, though, live theatre is almost in full swing once again, the Central Pennsylvania scene is alive and well.

Each year prior to 2020, the Hershey Theatre hosts the annual Apollo Awards, a Tony’s-style awards show for high school productions in the area. With the Apollo Awards returning in May for the first time since 2019, HawkEye Media’s Caleb Steindel is reviewing many of the Central PA high school musicals that have registered to be evaluated. He’ll also be adding his own predictions.

Hershey Theatre Apollo Awards Facebook page

Hershey Theatre Apollo Awards website

 

REVIEW #3: CAMP HILL HIGH SCHOOl

Week #3 of high school musical season has come and gone. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that the week of March 10-13 might have been the best one yet. The Central PA theatre scene is exploding with talent, and while the 2-year COVID-19 pause left many (including myself) wondering how the 2022 awards ceremony would stack up to past years, one needn’t worry. Most schools are picking up right where they left off and it’s clear that each cast is eager to prove themself; however, some have created higher standards than others. Camp Hill High School won a whopping 5 Apollo Awards in 2021 (a virtual year for the ceremony) including the coveted Outstanding Musical for Urinetown. They had a lot to live up to, and their selection of the risque Anything Goes was a loud proclamation that they weren’t resting on their laurels.

Urinetown is difficult to stage – full of bathroom satire and political critiques. Anything Goes is just as risky – full of nightclub singing and comedic crime. The tale takes place aboard a ship bound for England, the SS American. She carries a multitude of diverse passengers, from a second-rate gangster to an evangelist turned nightclub singer, and throughout the course of the story, all of their life problems seem to intersect each other. At the heart of the story, though, is a love triangle between the singer Reno Sweeney, the stockbroker Billy Crocker, and the heiress Hope Harcourt. Reno is drawn to Billy, Billy loves Hope, and Hope is engaged to a British aristocrat. Through a comedy of errors and a constant stream of humorous deceptions, each passenger ends up with their true love by the end of the show – even Hope Harcourt’s mother. The story is told through punchlines, disguises, and a plethora of dance performances – including a captivating tap number. While the traditional story has a few offensive racial and cultural slurs and stereotypes, the updated version sticks to the heart of the tale. As Camp Hill’s director, Josh Miccio, so eloquently states, “this show physicalizes how we love.” It explores all levels of love, both romantic and platonic, in a satisfactory and exhaustive way. 

Camp Hill’s cast arguably is the most talented of the Apollo-registered schools so far. Each lead was full of charisma and effortless comedy. A few standout ensemble dancers got plenty of chances to shine in the extravagant dance numbers, which were for the most part sharp and polished. There was never a dull moment, as the audience was kept in stitches throughout the duration of the show by the impeccable comedic timing. An extended walkway on the Pollock Center stage (the show’s venue) allowed for the cast to approach the audience in awe-striking moments from time to time. The show even featured a hysterical addition to the traditional show: an interaction between Moonface Martin and Reno Sweeney with the pit conductor. Camp Hill’s Anything Goes kept audience members captivated, laughing, and guessing.

Playing the charismatic lead, Reno Sweeney, was the endlessly confident Elsie Spitzer. Reno is a character that must walk the line between a woman seeking love and a suggestive, sarcastic performer. Spitzer effortlessly captains the show, never falling out of character and always making her castmates better, no matter the scene. Spitzer is a true triple threat, boasting godlike vocals and natural dancing abilities; you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better candidate for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical this year. Jack Baron portrays Reno’s eventual husband, Billy Crocker, a struggling Wall Street stockbroker pining after an unavailable debutante. Baron is charming and confident, a strong actor and vocalist who boasts clear chemistry with both Hope and Reno throughout the show. He’s especially likable when he gets accidentally pegged as a wanted criminal. But, while Baron’s portrayal of Billy Crocker isn’t superficial, there does appear to be a deeper level of the character that he leaves somewhat unexplored. Furthermore, Billy Crocker’s higher tenor notes at times seem to be a struggle for Baron, but he does an admirable job of staying on pitch nonetheless.

Hope Harcourt is played by the lovely Laney Dixon, and she does marvelous work at displaying her character’s romantic conflict and inner confusion. Her voice is beautiful, soaring, and soothing, perfect for the debutante heiress role. Dixon can occasionally become one-dimensional in her line delivery and sometimes gets outshined by her fellow actors, but part of that can be attributed to the mostly meek nature of the character. Hope’s mother, Evangeline, is played by Caroline Buell, and she creates a perfect foil for her daughter. Materialistic, overbearing, and ditzy Evangeline is the perfect contrast to Hope’s mannerisms. Playing Evangeline requires charisma and humor, and Buell has those qualities in spades. The trio of this English crew is rounded out beautifully by Sam Wilkins as the unendingly entertaining Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Evelyn is Hope’s wealthy fiancee, but by the show’s end, he has fallen for Reno Sweeney. Wilkins is unquestionably the funniest part of a hysterical show. The repetitive trope of him never understanding American sayings never gets old, and that’s all due to Wilkins’ perfect line delivery. He never slips out of his animated British accent and consistently maintains perfect enunciation. Comedic relief characters can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of a funny performance, but Wilkins truly stands out. Unfortunately, the one weak link among the leads comes in the form of Nikolas Jacobs as Elisha Whitney, Billy’s boss and a banker. Jacobs lacks the believability, nuance, and passion of the other actors, and his acting chops aren’t quite up to par with his castmates.

In a show like this one that’s overflowing with talent, the best actors are truly terrific performers. The dynamic duo of Elliott Stabler (not to be confused with the Law & Order detective) as the criminal Moonface Martin and Haylee Myers as his partner in crime, Erma, really makes this show come alive. Stabler is brilliant, has chemistry with all of his scene partners, and brings out the best in all of his castmates. He walks the line perfectly between a hilarious gangster that wants more recognition and a suave criminal disguised as a priest attempting to escape from the authorities. Myers portrays his flirtatious sidekick, Erma, and if it weren’t for Elsie Spitzer’s riveting performance as Reno, it would be Myers who steals the show. While her stage time is somewhat lacking, she makes the most of it, effortlessly nailing the funny, seductive nature of her character. Her thick Jersey accent is frankly unbelievably on-point, and every time she exits the stage, you’re left wishing she was still there. Her magnetism is unrivaled. 

Despite the strength of the show’s leads, the weakness of the ensemble was sadly on full display for much of the performance, too. Aside from a handful of clearly skilled ensemble dancers, most of the minor characters displayed little comfort on stage and poor line delivery. Reno, Billy, and company anchored and carried the show, but the ensemble largely held back the show’s full potential. This weakness largely lay unnoticed in the shadow of Elsie Spitzer’s powerhouse performance, but it was an unavoidable drawback to an otherwise excellent show. Furthermore, Anything Goes is a show that absolutely requires many convincing, confident, and comfortable male actors – an element Camp Hill did not have beyond its leads. Most of the minor characters and ensemble sailors were played by female actresses, and as the show progressed, that became somewhat confusing and detrimental.

The costume requirements for Anything Goes are relatively simple, but they need to be classy and exquisite, all the same. The 1934 setting is beautifully encapsulated with each costume, particularly through the raunchy, nightclub dresses worn by Reno and her fellow dancers. The sailor outfits and suits are simple but well-designed, and the elegant dresses worn by the Harcourts are tasteful and reflective of their unbridled wealth. The set is also simple since almost the entire show takes place on a ship, but Camp Hill clearly spent time making theirs realistic. A cleverly placed rotating room in the boat’s center allows for quick scene changes while still maintaining the continuity of the story. Finally, Camp Hill’s pit orchestra might be loud (especially for those sitting in the first few rows) but they nail the entire score from overture to finale.

Anything Goes is somewhat of a risk for a high school. The somewhat racy source material and the required blend of love and comedy can make it tough to tackle, especially for teenagers. But Camp Hill High School went bold with their show selection and it paid off. With some of the most talented leads on the high school theatre scene, the show proved to be delightfully entertaining and a gut-buster from start to finish. These students have talent beyond their years, and the Apollo Awards would be remiss not to recognize that.

APOLLO NOMINATION PREDICTIONS

Outstanding Musical

Outstanding Dance Number in a Musical: Blow, Gabriel Blow

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical: Elsie Spitzer as Reno Sweeney

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Elliott Stabler as Moonface Martin

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Sam Wilkins as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh

Outstanding Featured Performer in a Musical: Haylee Myers as Erma

Honorable Mention for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical: Jack Baron as Billy Crocker

Honorable Mention for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Laney Dixon as Hope Harcourt

Honorable Mention for Outstanding Featured Performer in a Musical: Caroline Buell as Evangeline Harcourt